Beauty as Revelation
How Beauty Defies Atheism and Ignites Faith
Who created the heavens and the earth and sent down, for you, from the sky, water with which We grow gardens of joyous beauty which you could not [otherwise] have grown their trees? Is there another god beside God? No! But they are people who ascribe equals to God” (Q. 27:60).
Every idea has a consequence. Therefore, it becomes unconvincing to believe in A and meanwhile deny B when it naturally and necessarily follows from A. Practically speaking, in the atheistic worldview that allows no room for God or any supernatural power behind this world, everything that exists is reduced down to a chance of a combination of molecules and some chemical reactions between atoms. This dangerous idea lead necessarily to many disasters, the darkest, scariest and most depressing of which is that there is no meaning or purpose in life, and that meaning, purpose or value cannot to ascribed to anything. To atheists, the beautiful stars you see are accidental blobs of burning gases and the handsome atheists are accidental blobs of dying chemicals that evolved in a mysterious and purposeless, meaningless way.
The philosophical and logical problem in this way of thinking is that it is self-defeating. To argue that there is no meaning, there has to be meaning first to be able to argue for or against your statement; otherwise, the atheistic worldview has to be meaningless too as it belongs to this meaningless world.Richard Dawkins admits: “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
Ironically, Dawkins’ is a deluded logic. If there is no good or evil, how would he complain that some get hurt and others lucky? If there is no meaning, no design and no purpose, why does he try to convince us that his atheistic worldview is ‘meaningful’ whereas he asserts there is no such a thing? Judged by the atheistic worldview, many terms become problematic; such as, “the selfish gene” Dawkins likes to refer to; yet, he fails to tell us where the idea of ‘selfishness’ comes from, or if it has meaning at all! Basically, any idea an atheist zealouslytries to convince us of is basically and unconsciously a violation of his or her own worldview, simply because any discussion becomes as meaningless and purposeless as the world in its atheistic view. Take Prof. William Provine’s summary of the consequences of his orthodox evolutionary theory: “There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.”
Again, how can we trust this statement if it is a result of meaninglessness and no free will?
Much worse still is that if our thinking and perceptions are upshots of purposeless evolutionary process in a meaningless cosmos, then trusting our own minds and critical abilities becomes necessarily illusionary. Darwin himself was aware of this problem as he admits: “But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”
Basically, if there is no designer for our brains to think, then our thinking will be reduced to chemical reactions that have no meaning, and thereby all thinking, including atheistic thoughts and scientific inferences, has to be discredited. Furthermore, our own will becomes an illusion as Sam Harris argues. Therefore, if God is dead, man is dead too! If God is illusion, man is illusion too!
That is why we need to differentiate between science and the interpretation of science, between science and scientism. Here is a Quranic warning against failing to embrace common sense:
Indeed, within the heavens and earth are signs for the believers.
In the creation of you, in the creatures God scattered on earth, there are signs for people of sure faith;
And in the alternation of night and day, and the provision (rain) that Allah sends down from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and in the turning about of the winds are signs for people who understand.
These are the verses of Allah which We recite to you in truth. Then, in what statement, after Allah and His verses, will they believe?” (Q. 45:3-6)
Literally, there is nothing worth believing if this whole universe is reduced to the depressing atheistic views. When I say nothing, I mean nothing, including science itself! In this way faith is the only thing that saves science and gives meaning to life. That is why Haldane had to admit: “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”
So the good news is that we are hardwired to believe that there is meaning, purpose, and will, and we behave accordingly. Any court system affirms this unescapable truth. This hardwired faith immunizes against atheism and alerts us to the metaphysical component in us. The Quran calls this unavoidable faith “Fitrah” (human natural disposition to believe in God), a word derived from the same root for the word ‘creation’. We are all aware that we exist, we recognize the idea of good and bad, we acknowledge the power of reason, we appreciate the idea of beauty, and we hold people responsible for their actions because they have free will. This awareness of all these immaterial notions defies atheism since this awareness proves that part of us is beyond the material. How could the immaterial, life, and meaning emerge from the material, lifelessness and meaninglessness? This is why atheism requires more faith, only to be left alone with no meaning, no purpose and no rationality-based value.
The mere recognition of beauty, regardless of how you define it, is enough to save one from atheism and its pitiless and meaningless world. That is why, I say that recognizing something like beauty and remaining an atheist is a kind of hypocrisy since atheists believe that there is no meaning; however, they behave as if there is meaning! This contradiction between the atheist’s belief and practice is what I mean by hypocrisy. To an atheist, you are not supposed to recognize the beauty of the snowflakes in Bentley’s Snow Crystals which has more than two thousand crystals that reveal part of the beauty in nature. To be a sincere atheist, one must resist any temptation to call something beautiful, ugly, good or bad; otherwise, one’s atheism is not to be taken seriously but could be an expression of disappointment or rebellion regardless of how these emotions are rightly or wrongly justified.
Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to notice the Quran referring to the power of added beauty in the context of listing the Signs that point to God as in (Q. 27:60) which refer to “gardens of joyous beauty” as a Divine Sign. This added beauty goes beyond the notion of design that demands a designer. Here in this verse we have a Designer Who adds beauty in the plant life and His architecture of the heavens and the earth to create an aesthetic feeling and delight for the observers, and thereby the beautifully crafted creation opens our eyes to get a glimpse of the majesty and divine handiwork of the Creator of the world.
Accordingly, the Quran is replete with calls to contemplations on natural beauty as an avenue for recognizing the Creator. Here are some examples to illustrate the Quranic calls to recognizing natural beauty as a way of grounding our belief in God.
“We have set great stars up in the sky and made them beautiful for all to see” (Q. 15:16).
“Have you not considered how God sends water down from the sky and that We produce with it fruits of varied colors; that there are in the mountains layers of white and red of various hues, and jet black;
that there are various colors among human beings, wild animals, and livestock too? It is those of His servants who have knowledge who stand in true awe of God. God is Almighty, Most Forgiving” (Q. 35:27-28).
“Do they not see the sky above them––how We have built it and adorned it, with no rifts therein;
And how We spread out the earth and put solid mountains on it, and caused every kind of beautiful plant to grow in it,
As a lesson and reminder for every servant who turns to God;
And We have sent down blessed rain from the sky and made grow thereby gardens and grain from the harvest.
And lofty palm trees, with ranged clusters; as a provision for everyone; how with water We give [new] life to a land that is dead? This is the resurrection [of the dead]” (Q. 50:6-11).
Grounding our faith in God through our recognition of His beautifully crafted creation has deep roots in our tradition. In a famous Hadith the prophet says: “Indeed, Allah is beautiful, and He loves beauty.” At the time when Islam is politicized in many circles, the Prophet of Islam associates this great faith with beauty. Based on this Hadith, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim developed a theology of beauty. To him reaching God through beauty is the greatest and most paramount way. He writes: “This noble Hadith lays out two major foundations: knowing and practicing. God is known through His unparalleled beauty and worshipped through the beauty He loves in words, actions and morals. So God loves His servant to beautify his tongue with honesty, his heart with sincerity, love, repentance and trust, his body parts with obedience, his body with blissful clothes, and purging it from filth and impurity. In essence, one knows God through beauty which is His attribute, and worships Him through beauty which is His Law and Faith.”
More explicitly, al-Izz ibn ‘Abdelsalam evaluates two ways of loving God as he asserts: “The love that results from recognizing beauty is better than the love resulting from experiencing acts of benevolence since the first is based on the beauty of the Deity, whereas the second is based on what came from His blessings.”
In other words, if we found our love on the divine gifts, it may become conditional; yet, if our love in grounded in beauty, that love will be unconditional and unwavering as it relates to the unchanging nature of God. The Quran reproaches those people whose worship is in proportion to the gifts they receive: “There are also some who serve God with unsteady faith: if something good comes their way, they are satisfied, but if they are tested, they revert to their old ways, losing both this world and the next- that is the clearest loss” (Q. 22:11).
Sensing God through beauty turned from the theological side to form a cultural association of beauty with the Divine. Culturally, whenever Muslims, especially in Arabic-speaking countries, are amazed by something beautiful, they aesthetically say: Allah! Dawud al-Antaki defines beauty as “that which makes the tongue celebrate the glory of God!”
Moreover, the word Ihsan which is usually used to refer to the spiritual system in Islam is a word that is morphologically related to husn which deals with the concept of beauty.
Let us pray and join: “Those who remember God standing, sitting, and lying down, who reflect on the creation of the heavens and earth, [saying]: ‘Our Lord, You have not created all this without purpose- You are far above that! So protect us from the torment of the Fire. Our Lord, indeed whoever You admit to the Fire – You have disgraced, and for the wrongdoers there are no helpers” (Q. 3:191-192).
 Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden, Basic Books, 1996, p.133
 William Provine, Origins Research, 16, no. 1, (1994): 9.
 Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (Cambridge, 2003), p. p. 153
 J. B. S. Haldane, Possible Worlds and Other Essays. London: Chatto & Windus, 1929, p. 209.
 Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Fawa’id, pp. 234-236
 Al-Izz Ibn ‘Abdelsala, Qawa’id al-Ahkam, vol. 2, p. 214
 Dawud Al-Antaki, Tazyin al-Aswaq, ‘Alam al-Kutb, vol. 2, p. 128
By Sh. Ahmed Arafat